September 29, 2020

A shouting match is often perversely compelling in the same way that a road accident is: it’s ugly, but it commands your attention. Very occasionally, however, a viciously heated conversation manages to achieve aching tedium at the same time. For an example of this paradox, ask some religious studies scholars what religion is. The ensuing debate will be a painstaking, often bitter exchange of views that ultimately boils down to the deflationary proposition that there is, in fact, no such… Read more

August 27, 2020

Some interesting battle lines have formed in the past few months.* We Americans had gotten used to thinking of ourselves as polarized between the Blue Tribe and the Red Tribe. But in recent years, decidedly illiberal factions have calved off from both these tribes, giving rise respectively to the identity-politics left and the populist right. In response, a growing chorus of old-school liberals have begun urgently defending the values and commitments of liberalism: free speech and debate, individual rights, procedural… Read more

July 31, 2020

Where does religious experience come from? In a new article, I combine Durkheim’s concept of Homo Duplex, Victor Turner’s concept of antistructure, and a healthy dose of contemporary social cognitive science to offer a new approach to this question. Read more

June 20, 2020

I’ve been hesitant to say anything about the recent protests and nationwide conversation about American racism and policing that erupted from the horrific murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. This is partly because my expertise, to the extent that I have any, is in religion and science. I don’t see how it helps the cause of racial justice for a religion-and-science “expert” to rush to express an opinion about such a massively complicated, painfully raw topic. At the same time,… Read more

May 30, 2020

It might not seem like it at this exact moment, but despite the coronavirus lockdowns and, well, riots, the United States and other Western countries are pretty decent places to live, as far as world standards go. Incomes are high, the air and water are generally clean, and governments have historically been comparatively effective and transparent. That’s not to say that these countries don’t suffer from gnarly problems – the U.S.’s painful ongoing struggles with racism are Exhibit A. It’s… Read more

May 18, 2020

The evolutionary developmental psychologist Michael Tomasello argues that, while other animals experience sympathy, the specific moral feeling of obligation emerged only in humans, and is based on “partner control” – or the internalized negotiations between members of a collective. Read more

April 27, 2020

Are we living through the end of the end of history – that is, the end of the era of liberal democracy as an inevitable endpoint for human development? If so, what will that mean for the future of science and religion? Read more

April 15, 2020

Why do some countries offer more fertile soil for democracy than others? A study in the American Political Science Review shows that Protestant missionaries laid the groundwork for democracy worldwide by spearheading literacy and challenging elites – even if democracy wasn’t exactly what they were aiming for. Read more

March 21, 2020

As the coronavirus pandemic sweeps the world, shutting down entire countries and threatening the worst economic crisis since 2008, developed nations are asking their citizens for the kind of sacrifices that normally are restricted to wartime. A shelter-in-place order now covers millions residents in California and Illinois. Colleges and universities around the country are shuttered. Are these unprecedented efforts to “flatten the curve” really worth it? One renowned researcher – John Ioannidis, a specialist in scientific methodology at Stanford University… Read more

March 6, 2020

Globalization: it may be a 2000s buzzword, but it’s brought the world many benefits. Our consumer goods are cheaper than ever before. Surging industrialization has lifted billions worldwide out of grinding poverty. For a while, you could even get Starbucks in the very heart of Beijing’s Forbidden City (if that’s what you were into). But the last few years have also taught us that globalization isn’t an unalloyed good. One unique danger it poses is hypercoherence, or maladaptive syncing between… Read more

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