April 4, 2019

Residents of Western Europe and North America are WEIRD – individualistic, analytically minded, and impersonally cooperative. Why? A new study preprint suggests that the roots of WEIRDness might be in, of all things, the Catholic Church’s prohibitions against cousin marriage. Read more

March 16, 2019

This past weekend, a group of senior scholars met for a colloquium in Boston to discuss the state of the scientific study of religion. One of the key questions: how do you balance between ecological validity and experimental control? Read more

March 8, 2019

Religion is a complicated nut to crack. It encompasses some of the most private and personal human experiences as well as the most dazzling, public displays you’ll ever see. Many holy scriptures teach the equal value of all people, yet religious traditions serve as a fount of tribalism. There’s no getting around the contradictions. Fortunately, we can study some of the most puzzling aspects of religion objectively, using the tools of the human behavioral, cognitive, and evolutionary sciences. This is… Read more

February 22, 2019

Religion, science, and postmodernism are usually seen as enemies. But each of these ideologies holds crucial values in common with each of the others – even if there’s nothing they all share together. Here’s a look at the complex, threeway relationship between Science™ and its two biggest competitors. Read more

February 7, 2019

Why do people – even atheists – tend to trust religious believers more? A scientific tool called life history theory may point to the answer. Religious believers are seen as having “slower” life history strategies – more committed relationships, more emphasis on caring for offspring. Read more

January 23, 2019

We’re living in a post-truth era. Is postmodernism to blame, as famous philosopher Daniel Dennett argues? In order to answer that question, we have to take a look at what postmodernism actually is. And it’s a lot more complicated than anyone told you. Read more

January 9, 2019

Why do so many people worship invisible beings, accept the authority of millennia-old texts, or or congregate on weekends in buildings for no apparently practical reason? The cognitive and bio-cultural sciences of religion are burgeoning as researchers attempt to answer these questions in the context of our secularizing culture. According to one popular hypothesis, people naturally tend to be religious because our brains, evolved to survive in the dangerous Paleolithic era, are hyper-sensitive to signals of agency, or personhood –… Read more

December 22, 2018

Want to try something really difficult? Be a researcher who studies religion in its many forms and facets using weird methods like computer simulations and lab psychology, and then try to explain your work to people who have normal careers. For example, you could go to a party and try explaining a paper my colleagues and I published last week on an agent-based model (ABM) computer simulation that explores why shamanism in some societies is mostly male-dominated, while in other… Read more

December 11, 2018

According to a recent research report, scholars in the humanities and the hard social sciences disagree about the relevance of genetic and biological explanations for human behavior. Could the two camps find common ground in the idea that *both* genes and culture influence our lives? Read more

November 29, 2018

I’m freshly back from Denver, where the annual conference of the American Academy of Religion (AAR) took place this year. The AAR is the world’s largest academic body focused on the study of religion. It includes everything under its big tent – experts in ancient Daoist texts, Biblical historians, Sanskrit scholars, sociologists of religion, transhumanists, and even – yes – cognitive scientists of religion. Attending the AAR is a little bit like finding yourself in one of those edge-of-the-galaxy bazaars… Read more

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